Kevin Puts – Dynamic City and Concerto
Kevin Puts is a composer who seems to go from strength to strength. His opera “Silent Night” won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012. His composition “Contact” won a Grammy this year. This release features three fairly recent works, all receiving their world recording premiers.
Puts revised his Marimba Concerto in 2021, which is the version recorded here. The revision was at the behest of Ji Su Jung, who performs it here.
The concerto has an elegiac quality to it. Puts’ harmonic language resembles the wide-open “Western” sound of Aaron Copland. Jung’s taken ownership of this concerto. The music seems to just flow from her. Most percussion concertos focus on rhythm. This one is more about poignant simplicity. It’s my favorite work on the album (but then, I’m a percussionist).
If you’re looking for a work with rhythm, “The City” delivers. Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony co-commissioned this piece. So of course their performance is assured and insightful. Puts’ sound kaleidoscope represents the various ethnic groups that make up any city. A driving pulse holds it all together, much like the inherent energy of a city.
Classical music, whether directly or indirectly, embodies the zeitgeist of its time. Puts writes that he created this work shortly after the 2016 presidential election. The polarization and fears it raised found expression in “Moonlight, Oboe Concerto No. 2.”
The first movement is unsettled and anxious. The second movement ratchets up the tension. Think Bernard Hermann’s “Psycho.” The final movement resolves that tension. Its lush harmonies suggest a peace that has yet to come.
Puts consulted Katherine Needleman as he crafted the oboe part. She’s playing music that was created for her, and it shows. A beautiful and impressive performance.
Kevin Puts: The City; Marimba Concerto; Moonlight
Katherine Needleman, oboe; Ji Su Jung, marimba
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; Marin Alsop, conductor